The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the respiratory disease COVID-19, which it triggers, has spread throughout the world within a few months. The consequences of the pandemic represent an enormous burden for both the health system and the economy.
In addition to caring for the sick, it is currently particularly important to test as many suspected cases as possible for SARS-CoV-2 infection. How a coronavirus test works, when it should be carried out, and what significance the test results have, we explain in the following.
To detect an infection with SARS-CoV-2, we use particularly reliable PCR technology. The abbreviation PCR stands for ‘Polymerase Chain Reaction.’ In this method, the genetic material of the virus is amplified. Only very few virus particles are required for this test procedure to obtain a meaningful test result.
The virus responsible for COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family, which also includes many other common pathogens. Therefore, to obtain a reliable test result, it is necessary that the analysis technology can recognize the specific characteristics of SARS-CoV-2.
Unlike humans, viruses do not have DNA, but so-called RNA. Since the genetic code of the virus is stored in it, the RNA must first be extracted from the virus as part of the test for SARS-CoV-2.
In the next step, the isolated RNA can then be converted into DNA using the reverse transcription method. The DNA thus obtained can now be mixed with specific reagents that specifically search for the unique characteristics of the coronaviruses responsible for COVID-19. If the search is successful, the DNA is amplified so that our analyzer can measure the increase and thus provide a positive test result.
Novogenia GmbH, founded in 2009 by Dr. Daniel Wallerstorfer, is one of the leading gene laboratories in Europe. Our laboratory is ISO-certified (ISO 9001), approved by the Austrian Ministry of Health for the performance of medical gene analyses, works according to the ISO15189 standard, and is registered for accreditation for 2020.
Tests for coronavirus are performed in our BSL-2 laboratory (Biosafety Level 2 for virus analysis). There we have five analysis stations at our disposal. With these, we can analyze up to 100,000 samples per month.
To perform the coronavirus test, we need a throat swab from the test person. For this purpose, we send a sample set by mail. The set contains easy to understand instructions and all the necessary utensils to take the swab and send it back to us safely.
The swab is neutralized and preserved in a unique stabilizing solution. This eliminates the risk of infection, and any virus molecules present can be detected up to seven days after collection.
After the sample has been received in our laboratory, we carry out the coronavirus test. The analysis is usually completed within one to three days. The result, which is protected by a login, is then immediately sent by e-mail so that the test person can be sure as soon as possible.
The test procedure we use is very accurate and also works in patients with an asymptomatic course of the disease. A positive test result is, therefore, a reliable proof of an existing infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
However, if no virus particles could be detected in a sample, it can be assumed that the patient is not infected with SARS-CoV-2. In order to avoid future infection, it is nevertheless advisable to follow the generally recommended rules of avoiding social contact, despite a negative test result.
With the help of PCR technology, even small amounts of virus particles can be very reliably detected. However, the method can only be used for testing for a limited period of time.
After a while, the body starts to produce specific antibodies with which it can fight the coronaviruses. Once all viruses have been eliminated, testing for SARS-CoV-2 with PCR technology is no longer possible. This is usually about ten days after the symptoms have subsided.
The first antibodies can usually be detected in the blood about two to eight days after the early symptoms of the disease appear and often remain there for several years after the actual virus infection.
A PCR test can thus be used to determine whether a patient is infected with SARS-CoV-2, and how long he or she has been infectious for other people. With an antibody test, however, the virus infection can only be detected towards the end of the disease. It also offers the possibility of testing people for immunity to the corresponding virus.
Anyone suffering from obvious symptoms of respiratory disease or who has had contact with a person suffering from COVID-19 or who comes from an area with many cases of the illness should always have themself tested.
In addition, people who belong to risk groups, or people who have contact with them, for example, in care for the elderly or hospitals, should also be tested for COVID-19.
With the test procedure we use, the coronavirus can typically be detected as early as one day after infection.
This means that infection with SARS-CoV-2 can be detected even before the first symptoms appear so that the test person can be quickly certain and prompt measures can be taken against the further spread of the disease.
Anyone who fears they may have contracted COVID-19 and would, therefore, like to perform a coronavirus test should under no circumstances go to the nearest emergency room or doctor’s office unannounced. If the suspicion is confirmed, the risk of infection for other patients is very high.
Instead, we recommend that you first contact your family doctor or local health authority by telephone to find out the correct procedure.
In some communities, SARS-CoV-2 testing is carried out as part of a home visit, for example, while other cities rely on scheduled sampling in specialized test centers to minimize the risk of infection.
The costs are only covered by the health insurance company if the test was ordered by a doctor. Anyone who wants to be tested for SARS-CoV-2 without medical necessity can, of course, do so. However, in this case, patients must pay the costs themselves.
A positive test result for SARS-CoV-2 must be reported to the public health department, and the affected patient must be placed in home quarantine. In case of a severe course of the disease, hospitalization is required.
Also, contact persons of the patient must be identified immediately. To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, they must also be placed in domestic quarantine. In addition, contact persons of patients with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis should also be tested promptly.
If you have any questions about SARS-CoV-2 analysis or if we can support you with our free laboratory capacities, please let us know. The Novogenia team is always at your disposal..